It had been a lousy day at the office, so bad that I wasn't even looking forward to going home. I knew I would spend the evening ruminating about some disappointments in my work. Also, I was troubled about a relationship in which I was afraid I was being asked to give more than I could give.
I then made the mistake of writing an e-mail to this friend, trying to make some boundaries clear. As soon as I sent it, I was sorry.
Whatever difficulties we were facing, I didn't want to sabotage the friendship. I really did want to solve the problem.
Just before I left, my friend called to see if I was still at the office. I was wary of the conversation because I didn't want to deal with the relationship issues on top of everything else that felt wrong. I was startled when it became clear that my friend was extending the loving support of asking me to dinner.
"Look, it's been a really hard day," trying to put him off. "And I'm not sure I can be very good company."
"I could tell by your e-mail that it had been a hard day."
Impressed, I said, "I'm not used to being with people when I'm out of sorts." It was the gentlest way I could refuse the invitation.
Without pause, he said, "When you're out of sorts - isn't that the time you need the most support?"
I laughed at the perspective that seemed so far from my modus operandi. Begrudgingly and selfishly, I accepted his offer, admitting to myself that I would enjoy the walk from the train station even if I had reservations about the companionship itself. To my surprise, by the end of the meal I was laughing, had regained my perspective, and felt refreshed by the day's effort.
I was humbled. Did I think I deserved to be loved only when I was on top of everything? How many other people had I shut out because I thought I knew better than they did about what I needed? A recipe for loneliness was being acted out even though my actions had a face of brave independence.
Whether we are married or single, it can seem risky to be willing to be loved. Nothing is worse than starting to depend on people and then having the support fail just when you think you need it most. But what if we could learn to welcome the care of others without thinking of it in terms of vulnerability?
The only way I can find the courage to be loved is to understand the constant source of love to be God. With this spiritual foundation, we aren't fooled by the vagaries of human affection. We can welcome affection being expressed and relationships moving forward without the fear of losing love.
One thing that helps is to stop putting love into categories - platonic, romantic, filial, neighborly, committed, or casual.
Relationships look that way, but any expression of helpful, genuine affection is a sign of God's presence making itself known.
This reality of love permeating the minutiae of life exalts our day, helping us cherish the evidence of love all around. In fact, the more God is honored as the source of every helpful exchange, the more we feel we're living in the kingdom of Love.
The wave to the security guard, the conversation with the passenger on the bus, the child's hug, the spouse's phone call, the friend's wiping of our tears, are all precious and worthy of gratitude.
The promise is that more and more we will cultivate a spirit of reverence when we think of love. To see it everywhere, all the time, cancels the habit of agreeing with loneliness.
I remember the emptiness of the house after my youngest went off to college, and the first time I rebelled against the feeling of isolation. As I sat in my living room one night feeling sorry for myself, I stood up suddenly and said, "Thank You, God, that Your love is right here, right now, always!" And then I knew what constructive thing needed doing next and with whom. Since then I have dismissed more quickly any suggestion of isolation, and companionship has a comfortable rhythm in my life.
I'm learning to accept love as an ever-present law in God's universe. To understand the substance of relationships as confirmation of God's love means we can bring to others a poise and strength instead of a hunger and vulnerability. The forms of relationships may change, but there is no reason to feel the absence of love in our lives. God's love is the divine Principle of life, constant and true.